My grown son is in the kitchen fixing himself a meal. Then a bomb goes off somewhere in his mind. He accuses me of hovering over him. I’d only wanted to grab a headache remedy, but the scene escalates. No explanation seems to matter as he calls me names. My husband comes to my aid—he’s triggered by name calling. I go from mild surprise to irritation to downright fear. The boundary I set earlier lingers in my head.
This son, when sober, is witty, kind and generous to a fault. I love him so much it hurts, and for years, I’ve tried to help keep him alive. But lately, when he’s intoxicated, he scares me.
His alcoholism has advanced, and he rages more and more often. When he’s drunk, the lack of all impulse control worries me. What if he doesn’t stop at threats? That’s why I’ve set a boundary: if you rage, I will call 911.
The fact that alcohol remains legal and ingrained in society makes my son’s struggles that much scarier. As it progresses, the disease pulls him farther down a black-out hole.
This black-out hole switches off the thinking brain and boots up the primitive brain. Lately, the switch happens faster, dumping my son back eons, to when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Even when sober, those with addiction only know one setting: fight or flight. When dino-brain kicks in, it’s all fight.
The fight always begins over something trivial. Paranoia ignites this brou-ha-ha. But my headache pill might as well be a lit match tossed carelessly out a car window. He becomes enraged. I can’t stop the wildfire.
They say that a person with addiction always operates out of fear. Fear of getting the next dose, fear of hiding it, fear of being outed. If you’ve ever been chased by an angry dog, you know they supposedly smell your fear. I’d bet that those with substance disorder can smell fear too. And that smell brings out bloodlust in a person who can only think like T. Rex.
As my son’s behavior escalates, his threats multiply. My husband reacts like Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” films. The moment anyone calls him names, my husband’s ready to fight back. It’s ridiculous.
But I’m not immune to Son’s button-pushing either.
These altercations always happen after midnight, and they’re always loud, and then my heart jumps into my throat. What about the neighbors? Oh no I’m afraid they’ll figure out that we’re a bunch of enabling codependents. So, there I am, asking my hubby to please just ignore the threats while I’m shushing everybody. A fearful, ridiculous sight.
When he rages, it’s hard to stay calm and focused.
We warn our son: Be quiet. If you can’t calm down, please leave. If you don’t (leave, stop throwing stuff, etc) we’ll call 911. By this point we’re all yelling.
He doesn’t leave. Experts say we should remove ourselves. Pretty soon we’re locked in our room. We call for a sheriff. My husband’s angry, my son’s raging and I’m scared spitless. Fear hangs so thick it blankets the air.
I do the only thing I know. I pray.
Most times, my prayers seem stiff and small. Lord, hold the rain until I get home. Please let so-and-so travel safely. But now, huddled and afraid, I recite the Lord’s Prayer. Over and over, I whisper words I’ve known since childhood. I say them fast, then slower and slower, until my whole body is in tune with an unseen force. I don’t know if my prayer is an incantation or a bloodied-knees plea. But gradually, fear dissipates.
A tiny miracle emerges.
Without fear, hope can roar back to life. And where I find hope, I find faith. And love. Yes, whenever he rages, I’ll remove myself. But my boundary held firm. I was afraid and I called for help. Later he’ll gripe about it, but I kept a boundary for once and dang, that feels good. Small things can and do add up to a remedy for fear. Love becomes not a panacea but a universe where I want to live.
Tonight, the law—our county has only two sheriffs from inland to coast—never arrives. We find our son on the porch, slumped in a chair. He sleeps, as if all the fear has drained from his bones too, a fossil of love hidden behind his own terror. I cover him with his jacket. In the frosty air, my tears sing.